These Historical Japanese Prints Depict Japan’s Most Sacred Spots

Utagawa Hiroshige, "The Tea House Hiraiwa at Mukōjima," c. 1836 | Library of Congress
Utagawa Hiroshige, "The Tea House Hiraiwa at Mukōjima," c. 1836 | Library of Congress | Library of Congress
Photo of Christine Bagarino
24 November 2017

The traditional Japanese woodblock prints known as ukiyo-e are known for their depiction of the ‘Floating World’, referring to the fleeting world of pleasure that included court beauties, romantic depictions of nature, and even erotica. But they also depict some of the most sacred sites in Japan – both man-made and natural – from Shinto shrines to the mother of all power spots, Mount Fuji. Here are eight of Japan’s most sacred spots depicted in historical prints from the 18th to early 20th centuries.

Ise Grand Shrine

This late 18th-century woodcut offers a perspective of the Daidai Kagura, a Shinto dance with music, taking place at Ise Jingu, Japan’s most sacred Shinto shrine.

Ise Shrine by Toyoharu Utagawa | Library of Congress

Itsukushima Shrine

Itsukushima Shrine is located on the island of Miyajima in Hiroshima prefecture. The shrine’s floating torii gate is the only one of its kind in Japan and considered one of the country’s most scenic views.

Utagawa Toyoharu, A perspective picture of Itsukushima Shrine, c. 1770 | Library of Congress

Lake Biwa

This woodcut by Katsushika Hokusai depicts a rainy nighttime view of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake, and the ancient Karasaki pine trees located there. The entire lake is considered to be a power spot, with the strongest source concentrated at Chikubu Island in the northern part of the lake.

Katsushika Hokusai, Evening rain at Karasaki, c. 1810 | Library of Congress

Izumo Grand Shrine

This Shinto shrine in Shimane prefecture is believed to be the oldest in Japan. According to ancient folklore, all of the kami, or Japanese gods, convene at Izumo Grand Shrine for a sacred gathering once a year. They are illustrated in their human forms in the print below by Sadahide.

Utagawa Sadahide, Gathering of gods at the great shrine at Izumo, 1857 | Library of Congress


Amanohashidate, a sandbar in northern Kyoto prefecture, is another one of the most celebrated scenic views of Japan. The Shinto shrine located on the sandbar is considered a power spot for success in love.

Utagawa Hiroshige, Amanohashidate in Tango Province, 1859 | Library of Congress

Hase-dera Temple

This piece portrays Nara prefecture’s Hase-dera Temple in springtime when the cherry blossoms are at peak bloom. One of the most sacred Buddhist temples of the Nara-Yamato Pilgrimage, it’s not to be confused with Hase-dera Temple in Kamakura, which shares the same name.

Utagawa Hiroshige, Hasedera in Yamato Province, 1859 | Library of Congress

Mount Fuji

There are many famous historical prints of Mount Fuji, but this one by Uehara Konen was created in the Meiji era, during a period of rapid changes to Japanese society that led to the steady disappearance of the woodblock print.

‘Sailboats and Mount Fuji’ by Konen Uehara | Library of Congress

Shinkyo, The Sacred Bridge

This woodblock print depicts a rainstorm falling on Shinkyo, or ‘The Sacred Bridge’, which leads to Nikkō Futarasan Shrine.

Uehara Konen, Rain over sacred bridge (shinkyō), c. 1910 | Library of Congress

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